ERIE REFOCUSED CONSULTANT: DELAY McBRIDE VIADUCT DEMOLITION
by Kevin Flowers, Erie Times News
Charles Buk said in a statement that delaying the eastside bridge’s demolition would be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.
The Virginia-based consultant instrumental in crafting the city of Erie’s development plan has some advice for city leaders regarding the McBride Viaduct: Put the deteriorating eastside bridge’s planned demolition on hold.
Charles Buki, the founder and principal consultant at the firm CBZ, said in a statement this week that a delay in razing the bridge “would be completely consistent with” Erie Refocused.
That multiyear, multimillion-dollar comprehensive plan, the first of its kind for the city in decades, addresses the city’s future needs in terms of transportation, housing, land use, economic development and other areas, to combat decades of systematic decline.
“A pause that would allow study and deliberation is in order,” Buki said.
The viaduct was closed by the city of Erie in June 2010 because of structural concerns. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials plan to raze the viaduct, located at East 12th Street and East Avenue, in 2018 as part of a $7.5 million plan that also includes construction of a Buffalo Road interchange on the Bayfront Connector. That plan is supported by city, state and federal officials.
However, an Erie group, Erie CPR Connect + Respect, wants to see the eastside bridge restored as a pedestrian walkway or public park.
Buki, in his statement, said that with Mayor-elect Joe Schember and two new members of Erie City Council taking office in January, “the Erie community has an opportunity for the viaduct, a potentially significant city asset, to evaluate the many outcomes that could result — either by demolition or rehabilitation; in other words the conversation that should have occurred years ago but did not.”
Buki said that “process matters,” referring to public dialogue about the bridge’s future.
“If after careful consideration it is determined that demolition is the right course, then at least it can be said that the community was consulted, treated fairly, came together and rendered a decision,” Buki said. “I strongly recommend a pause to the planned demolition of the McBride Viaduct, and a concerted effort to debate the issues publicly and transparently, and in a kind and caring manner.
“Then, after additional study and discussion, recommendations can be made to the mayor’s office and a final decision the community can live with can be made and made in good conscience.”
Erie CPR Connect + Respect has threatened to file a lawsuit to delay the bridge’s demolition and force additional public conversation on the issue. That suit has not yet been filed.
PennDOT expects to seek demolition bids soon, and demolition work could begin in early 2018. PennDOT spokesman Jim Carroll has said the agency is moving forward with demolition plans.
However, Erie CPR wants alternatives to be considered because they claim the viaduct remains an important pedestrian walkway from East 12th Street and East Avenue south to Buffalo Road. The group also wants the chance to privately raise money to save the bridge.
Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott, who will leave office in January, has said that the urban park idea is not feasible for the 80-year-old viaduct, in part because of concerns about maintenance, liability, security and the bridge’s deteriorating condition, as well as the fact that state and federal transportation officials support demolition.
City Council has approved previous reimbursement agreements requiring the city to pay for roughly 5 percent of the demolition and interchange project, with the rest covered by state and federal agencies.
PennDOT officials have said the demolition project will primarily consist of removing the existing 1,170-footbridge and all piers, steps and ramps while providing adjacent pedestrian improvements. In addition, a fence will be installed for pedestrian protection from the CSX Corp. railroad tracks.
Kevin Flowers can be reached at 870-1693 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNflowers.